Thursday, February 24, 2011


The following is from the Guardian newspaper in the UK, detailing a Wikileaks cable about the UK blocking an arms deal to Swaziland for fear the weapons would be sold on to Iran.


23 February 2011

WikiLeaks cables: UK blocked $60m arms deal over fears of Iran link

Cables spell out possible destinations if deal between UK arms broker and Swaziland had gone ahead

Britain blocked a $60m (£37m) sale of helicopters, armoured cars and machine guns to the small African state of Swaziland, fearing the weapons could end up in Iran, according to US diplomatic cables.

The cables leaked by WikiLeaks reveal that an export licence for the deal was refused to a UK arms broker, Unionlet, which is run by a former Ministry of Defence official.

Mark Ranger, the managing director, told the Guardian the proposed shipment of 925 Heckler & Koch assault rifles, five heavy machine guns, armoured personnel carriers and three Bell H1U1 helicopters was intended to be used by Swaziland on African peacekeeping missions for the United Nations.

The UK government refused to grant a licence to the December 2008 purchase order, which was signed by Swaziland's principal defence secretary John Kunene. The criteria cited in the official strategic export controls document is "possible use for internal repression", which includes concerns weapons may be passed on to other nations.

But the despatch by Maurice Parker, the US ambassador to Swaziland, was more direct. Parker's UK source told him the deal had been blocked over "end use concerns".

Parker then set out possible destinations for the shipment. "The GKOS [Swaziland government] may have been attempting to build up domestic capability to deal with unrest, or was possibly acting as an intermediary for a third party such as Zimbabwe or a Middle Eastern country that had cash, diamonds or goods to trade."

Parker noted Swaziland's foreign minister had recently completed trips to Iran and Libya, and that Iran had established formal diplomatic relations with the African nation.

He also suggested the armaments were excessive for African peacekeeping needs. "The array of weapons requested would not be needed for the first phases of peacekeeping, although it is possible someone tried to convince the Swazi government they were required," he wrote.

The ambassador also cautioned the US officials to keep Unionlet's details confidential – for fear of legal reprisals.

"The British contact providing documentation for this purchase informed Ambassador Parker that if the information becomes public, the manufacturer could sue the British government for violating confidentiality," Parker concluded.

Swaziland, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy, has a poor human rights record which was criticised by the US state department in its 2009 report.

"Government agents continued to commit or condone serious abuses, and the human rights situation in the country deteriorated. Human rights problems included inability of citizens to change their government; extrajudicial killings by security forces; mob killings; police use of torture, beatings, and excessive force on detainees," it said.

In the months before the attempted arms sale, Swaziland's government declared the main opposition political party a terrorist organisation, and arrested its leader, Mario Masuku.

Ranger dismissed US concerns that the shipment could be destined for Iran. "Do you believe anything the US says? Swaziland can barely get itself out of bed, it's not brokering Middle Eastern arms deals. That sounds like a mischievous, ill-informed comment from a US official," he said.

Ranger said he was not aware of meetings between the Swazi foreign minister and Iran or Libya. He also added that UK officials had indicated they would consider an arms sale if Swaziland completed a formal agreement with the UN about taking a peacekeeping role.

"While there is a generally held view that Swaziland has a terrible human rights record, I'm not a politician and these decisions are not for me to make," he said. "We are fully compliant with UK government regulations – I used to work for the UK government doing the same job I do now."

Ranger says he joined Unionlet, a company he owns with his father, immediately after a stint at the Defence Export Services Organisation, a special unit of the Ministry of Defence which promoted overseas arms sales. The unit was closed in 2007 after attracting the ire of arms campaigners due to its pivotal role in facilitating arms deals between BAE and Saudi Arabia.

It was replaced by the Defence & Security Organisation, based within the government's export trade body UK Trade & Industry.

Unionlet, a comparatively small arms broker based in west London, is an approved official dealer for Heckler & Koch, but is not recognised by Bell as a dealer. Ranger said he would have obtained the helicopters from other sources.

"You do not need to be a Bell dealer to buy Bell helicopters – it's like cars – there is a large secondhand market and you can purchase and export with appropriate licences from the US."

Campaigners welcomed the revelation the deal had been blocked, but were concerned by Ranger's claims the UK government was willing to consider the deal with preconditions.

"This seems a welcome, but rare, case where the UK government has exercised its discretion by refusing to sell arms to a known human rights abuser," said a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade.

"However, if this account is correct, then they were still willing to reconsider."

A spokesman for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills refused to comment on the individual case but said all decisions were made on a case-by-case basis across relevant government departments.

He said: "The United Kingdom discusses, in robust terms, issues relating to human rights with the Government of Swaziland."

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